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Point/counterpoint: Which league is damaging its reputation more by locking out players?

BY DI STAFF | JULY 05, 2011 7:20 AM

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NFL

Football is the new national pastime, and it is by far the most popular sport in the country. The NFL in particular gives fans something to look forward to all year, from fantasy-league drafts to Super Bowl parties.

The NFL can also boast that it is the most profitable American sports league, because it earns more money annually than the NBA, NHL, and MLB.

From the outside, the NFL looks like an excellent example of teamwork — however, the only thing keeping the league from total sport dominance is the league itself.

For the past 116 days, the NFL has been in a lockout revolving around money, leverage, and health care. To sum it up in a nutshell, the owners of the 32 NFL teams want their players to make less money, have less leverage, and have fewer health-care rights. The owners’ greed is doing irrefutable damage to both the league and the sport as a whole.

Just look at baseball as a guide. In the early ’90s, Major League Baseball was far and away the most popular sport in America. But with the players’ strike in 1994 — a work stoppage that started Aug. 11 and wiped out the rest of the season — baseball spent years trying to recover. It wasn’t until 1998, on the backs (and bats) of Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, that the MLB could at least pretend it was back to its former glory.

Who knows what it will take to get the NFL’s fans back?

The NBA, which is also going through a lockout that could possibly affect the 2011-12 season, is in a better place. The NBA’s owners are not acting on greed, they have valid issues that need to be dealt with — specifically, the league needs a hard salary cap to help smaller market teams to compete on the same playing field as such major-market squads as the Los Angeles Lakers, Miami Heat, and New York Knicks.

Take the Dallas Mavericks, for example. Dallas’ total salary this season was more than $89 million, but the cap for this season was only $55 million. The fact that the Mavs and Heat played for the NBA championship this season further shows a team must spend top dollar in order to compete and win championships.

Both leagues may be going through lockouts currently, but fans will be quicker to forgive the NBA once all of its issues are settled than fans of the NFL. One can only pray that the NFL owners find a way to figure this all out, or a lot of Americans will have pretty lackluster Sundays this fall.

— by Erik Papke

NBA

No league in professional sports has seen the kind of coverage and excitement that the NBA has over the past 12 months.

At this point last summer, everyone and their mother was wondering where some of the league’s top players would sign as free agents (and which charity would benefit).

What ensued was something rarely seen in the world of professional sports: An event — in this case, the 2010-11 NBA season and playoffs — that lived up to the hype.

But all the momentum and excitement the league had garnered came to a screeching halt when the collective-bargaining agreement expired on June 30.

It’s unfortunate for the NBA that the owners and players didn’t learn a lesson from the NFL’s lockout, because basketball will suffer far worse than football will.

The NBA is just as much of a star-driven league as the NFL is, if not more so. Such stars as LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Dirk Nowitzki caught the attention of the casual sports fan during the NBA Finals, helping create a large buzz around the series. After all, Game Six of the championship battle between the Mavericks and Heat was the highest-rated sixth game of the NBA Finals in the past 11 seasons.

While the NFL’s lockout has been going on for several months, the NBA’s is only a few days old. But as the weeks pass by, fans will learn exactly what is at stake.

In the previous NFL collective-bargaining agreement, the players’ union received 50 percent of the revenue. Now, the owners are asking for a larger piece of the financial pie.

The NBA’s players’ union, however, was making much more than the football players under its previous labor agreement.

In fact, there isn’t a single profession out there whose union makes as much money as the NBA players’ union — the average NBA player’s salary is $5.8 million.

Casual or average NBA fans make nowhere near that amount; they might be lucky to make even 1 percent of that.

We’ve seen this similar situation before in previous lockouts, both in the NBA and other major sports. The casual fan doesn’t like seeing players bicker over millions of dollars, especially when those same players’ salaries are partially being paid for by fans’ ticket purchases.

And as the NBA’s lockout drags on, it is those same casual fans the league will lose.

— by Ben Schuff


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